ights activists and Uyghur advocacy groups on Tuesday demanded the release from prison of Uyghur academic and blogger Ilham Tohti in statements marking the fifth anniversary of his arrest on charges of promoting separatism and subsequent sentencing to a life term behind bars.
An outspoken economics professor who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Tohti was sentenced on Sept. 23, 2014 following a two-day show trial.
The court decision cited Tohti’s criticism of Beijing’s ethnic policies, his interviews with overseas media outlets, and his work founding and running the Chinese-language website Uighurbiz.net, which was shut down by Chinese authorities in 2014.
On Tuesday, the Germany-based Ilham Tohti Initiative urged Beijing to immediately and unconditionally free the jailed writer and professor, calling the conditions of his imprisonment a “calculated and cruel deprivation” of his rights to family visits and outside communication.
“All this is carefully engineered to punish the Uyghur scholar with degrading treatment and psychological torture, while at the same time keeping the attention on his plight from the outside world to a minimum,” the group’s president Enver Can said in a statement.
Can said that Tohti’s family has not been able to visit him at the XUAR capital Urumqi’s No. 1 Prison for the past two years, and cited a report by rights group ChinaChange that claimed he had been held in solitary confinement and denied the right to communicate with friends and loved ones.
The Ilham Tohti Initiative urged China’s government to “unconditionally free Ilham Tohti, [as well as] his students and all innocent Uyghur intellectuals and writers” in prison or “political re-education camps,” where authorities have detained Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas throughout the XUAR since April 2017.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia told RFA’s Uyghur Service Tuesday that Tohti’s situation—imprisoned and prevented from seeing his friends and family—“reflects the actual situation of the Uyghur people living as second class citizens under Communist Party rule in China.”
Hu said that in the time since Tohti’s family was last allowed to visit him, the health of the professor is unknown, and expressed concern that authorities “will allow him to die slowly, like they did to Liu Xiaobo,” the late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner who succumbed to liver cancer in July 2017.